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November 17, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Europe's precautionary chemicals policy will
require safety testing of 10,000 common chemicals.]

The European Parliament has approved far-reaching legislation which
will lead to the safety testing of thousands of chemicals used in
everyday products.

The law, called Reach -- Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of
Chemicals -- would create one database including all chemicals used in
the EU.

Employers say it will impose heavy costs and cause firms to flee

MEPs also included a measure obliging firms to replace hazardous
chemicals with safe ones, whenever possible.

The regulation has to be approved by national governments before it
can become law, and may return to the parliament for another vote next


Reach in its original form would have led to about 30,000 substances -
found in everything from cars to computers to children's toys -- being
tested for their impact on health and the environment.

It has been intensely controversial, prompting some of the biggest
lobbying campaigns ever seen in Brussels, with industry on one side
and unions, and health and environmental groups on the other.

Last week, the largest political groups in the European Parliament -
the conservative European People's Party and the Socialist group -
agreed on a compromise, limiting the amount of data required for
substances used in volumes of less than 10 tonnes.

All of the 30,000 chemicals will still need to be registered, but up
to two-thirds of them may be exempted from tests.

Instead, a new European Chemicals Agency, based in Helsinki, will
decide which of these chemicals used in low volumes are risky enough
to have to pass through the testing procedure.

Duty of care

Businesses wanting to use the most dangerous chemicals will have to
get special authorisation from the agency.

The European Parliament also voted for improved labelling of products
made with chemicals thought to be harmful.

Up to now, chemicals put on the market before 1981 -- the vast
of those currently in use -- have not had to be checked for their
effects on health and the environment.

The onus has been on public health authorities in individual countries
to test those they suspect may be dangerous.

Reach puts the burden of proof, and a "duty of care", on business.

The tests would have to be carried out in phases over 11 years,
starting with the most dangerous substances, and those used in the
largest volumes.

'Strongest protection'

Italian Socialist MEP Guido Sacconi, who steered Reach through the
parliament's environment committee, said the vote gave Europe the
"strongest protection in the world" from dangerous chemicals.

He added that "unbelievable pressure" was brought to bear on MEPs by
big businesses.

Nadine Toscani, a senior policy adviser at Unice, a pro-business lobby
group, said: "The legislation is going in the right direction."

But, a group of green groups, including Friends of the Earth and
Greenpeace, said the MEPs had diluted the legislation too far.

"A Reach adopted the on this basis will not deliver the health and
environment protection the public needs, as it would leave thousands
of chemicals without basic toxicity data," the groups said in a joint

The European Consumers Organisation, BEUC, also said the law, as
amended by parliament, would not "identify risks and hazards that need
to be identified".


1,000 pages of text already, rising potentially to 15,000
1,000 amendments voted on

30,000 chemicals to be registered over 11 years

At least one million more animal tests

Estimated costs of $5.9 US dollars ($5bn euros) for business over 11

Billions of euros saved in healthcare costs

Q&A: Reach chemicals law

In quotes: Reach reaction

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/11/17 13:00:33 GMT

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